CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Woodbridge Inoac Technical Products is gearing up to produce millions of urethane face masks at three locations in the U.S. and Canada.
The joint venture between Woodbridge Group and Inoac Corp. said the masks will be made at company facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Kitchener and Woodbridge, Ontario. WITP expects to be able to produce more than 1 million face masks each week to help keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WITP is importing technology and design from Inoac in Japan to replicate production of the masks being made there, said Mike Fritts, president of customer and product experience at the Woodbridge Group.
The new masks are designed to supplement, not replace, the more efficient N95 face masks that have become well-known during the outbreak.
"WITP appreciates all of the front line medical workers that are battling this pandemic and trying to desperately save lives around the world," Fritts said. "We want to ensure that the N95 certified masks are readily available for all medical workers. And our masks can protect others that are essential in today's business environment."
The province of Ontario already has ordered 15 million masks from the company, Fritts said, and the company is pursuing opportunities to market the masks in the U.S. to both hospitals and industries alike.
The mask has been deemed a Class I medical device by Health Canada. Medical devices in Canada are divided into four categories, with Class I having the lowest potential risk for use. The category includes items such as bandages and wheelchairs, for example.
WITP will use a urethane formulation from Japan to create blocks of the material that will then be sliced into thin layers. Those slices will be sent to outside contractors that will die-cut the masks before they return to WITP for final assembly, including placement of a polypropylene filter and kitting, Fritts said.
The new WITP masks are designed to help bolster the overall market that has experienced shortages due to the overwhelming demand by health care workers during the pandemic. The masks do not meet the same standards as N95 masks, which are designed to capture at least 95 percent of airborne particles.
Instead, the new masks can be used in certain health care situations, as well as industrial and manufacturing settings having trouble sourcing such protection for their workers.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has given the mask a QKR product classification: "Face mask is intended to be worn by general public or health care personnel. The mask covers the user's nose and mouth and may or may not meet fluid barrier or filtration efficiency levels," according to the agency's website.
"These are challenging times that are impacting us all," WITP President Mike Simpson said in a statement. "We are extremely grateful to the medical personnel at the front lines who are fighting the pandemic, and we are honored to do our part and to produce face masks that are needed."
WITP worked with technical employees of Inoac in Japan to develop and plan the manufacturing of the masks in North America. WITP also partnered with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, Hematite Inc., McMaster University, Magna International Inc., TS Tech Americas Inc. and Toyota Boshoku Canada.
WITP traditionally makes polyurethane foam products for a variety of applications, including padding, packaging, sealing and filtration. Markets include automotive, filtration, medical and industrial product manufacturers.
The company also is exploring the potential of manufacturing the masks in Mexico.
"It's truly a humanitarian initiative to give back to the communities we work in and help in the fight of this unprecedented pandemic. Also, it's an opportunity to utilize our global urethane expertise," Fritts said.
The company also will use the new masks to provide protection for its employees at more than 60 plants around the world.
As the world struggles to fight the virus, Fritts said he believes views about workplace hygiene have changed.
"I think going forward, hygiene relative to this pandemic will take on a whole new meaning. So we think specifically in industrial environments, automotive environments and other environments, this mask will be beneficial," he said.